The power of making choices

lake scene

There’s an important opportunity available to us at the point when we regain our awareness. We can choose not only what we do (taking our awareness to the breath), but how we do it.

When we realize that we’ve been distracted there can be a strong temptation to beat ourselves up. Of course if we do that then we’re going straight back into an uncontrolled, unaware state of distractedness — we undermine ourselves or get annoyed.

A more creative response is that we bring our awareness back to the breath with as much kindness, and patience, and gentleness as we can. Instead of giving yourself a hard time about having been distracted you can even congratulate yourself on having regained your awareness. This is a very important practice; whenever you realize that you’ve been distracted, focus instead on the fact that you’ve regained your awareness and allow yourself to feel a sense of pride and joy at that fact. You can even imagine yourself punching your fist in the air in a gesture of victory.

When you’re taking your awareness back to the breath, bear in mind that your mind is a miraculous and precious thing. Carry your awareness back to the breath in the same way as you would pick up a young kitten in order to return it to its mother. Try and be that gentle and that kind. Your mind has a natural tendency to wander, just like a young, inquisitive animal. So there’s no point in being harsh with yourself.

The meditation practice we’ll be learning after we’ve practiced the Mindfulness of breathing for a few weeks is called the metta bhavana, and it’s all about bringing more of those qualities of kindness and appreciation into our lives.

3 Comments. Leave new

Is it safe to say that Buddhists believe in libertarian free will? More specifically, do Buddhists believe in free will that is incompatible with determinism?


Hi Rob,

I’m not sure exactly what you mean by “libertarian” free will, but I’ll give my understanding. Buddhism is definitely not deterministic. It accepts the effects that social conditioning, genes, etc have on us, but insists that that conditioning influences rather than determines how we act.

At the same time Buddhism doesn’t have a naive view of free will. We can’t just decide to be happy, for example, and expect our emotions to suddenly comply with our desires. We can’t “control” ourselves totally. Just as genes and social conditioning influence rather than determine how we act, so too our will only influences, but can’t determine, how we act. Another way of putting this is to say that our will is only partly free.

At any given moment we have a limited power to influence what we do, but the important thing is to act on that limited power. In doing so we find that we have greater power to exercise our will — our will becomes more free and we find that it becomes easier to be what we want to be and do what we want to do.

Enlightenment could be described, perhaps, as point where we have the ultimate amount of free will available to us, resulting in a great degree of freedom from suffering.

I hope this helps. Remember that I’m not a philosopher but just a practitioner, so please don’t take this as an authoritative statement on Buddhist doctrine. This is just my understanding of how things work.

All the best,


Thankyou, Reading about treating yourself as you would a kitten is very helpful.


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